Badger cull demand as numbers rise 77%
By Boyd Champness
FARMERS have called for the return of badger-culling programmes after the release of a survey today showing a jump in badger numbers of 77% over the past 10 years.
The National Farmers Union has called on the Government to lift the moratorium on badger culling, claiming that the rise in badger numbers has led to the increase of tuberculosis (TB) in dairy cattle across the UK.
The national badger survey, commissioned by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species, shows that numbers have risen sharply in some regions, but declined in others. For example numbers in the West Midlands have jumped by 86%, but have declined by 8% in North-west England.
NFU president Sir David Naish said the Trusts results – revealing that numbers have jumped in the West Midlands – adds weight to the NFUs argument. There has been a three-fold increase of new TB breakdowns in cattle herds across the West Midlands, from 30 cases in 1996 to 94 this year.
“In areas such as the South-west, West Midlands and Wales, all the evidence points to diseased badgers infecting cattle with TB and causing farmers severe difficulties,” Sir David said.
“We have called on the Government to lift the moratorium which currently prohibits badger removal operations from these newly infected areas. The Trusts survey gives us absolute confidence that such a policy could be implemented without any risk to a strong, healthy and sustained badger population.”
Sir David said he would be urging the farm minister Dr Jack Cunningham to relieve these farmers from TB restriction orders, which would allow them to take preventative action. He would also be asking for increase compensation for farmers affected by the rise in TB.
The Trusts survey was carried out by Professor Stephen Harris and his team at the Environmental Science department of the University of Bristol. Prof Harris carried out the first national survey on badgers 10 years ago.
Prof Harris said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the increase in numbers, but attacked the NFUs call for a cull, saying the rise in numbers showed a steady recovery and not an “explosion” as described by the NFU. He said the rise in badger numbers can be directly linked to improved legislation which has made it illegal to persecute badgers.
He conceded that badgers do pass TB onto cattle. However, he said farmers shouldnt be venting their anger at badgers, but at past and present Governments for not adopting proposals which could have led to a cure for TB-infected cattle by now.
Prof Harris said Governments had spent £25 million slaughtering 25,000 badgers since 1975. At roughly £1000 to kill a single badger – and with TB in cattle just as prevalent as ever – Prof Harris said the money could have been more wisely spent.
“Lets stop blundering blindly down this course. We have put research proposals in to MAFF (Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) saying how we think they can reduce levels of TB in cattle, and they have chosen not to fund them,” Prof Harris said.
MAFF plans to release a report next month showing that TB has risen sharply in cattle since 1996, and that the disease has spread into new areas in line with increasing numbers of badgers.
The MAFF report, being compiled by Prof Krebs, will recommend ways of controlling badger numbers as well as combating TB in cattle. Scientists are working on vaccines to prevent TB in cattle and badgers, but most experts suggest that they are at least 10 years away from perfecting it.